Student club races their way to international competitions

Formula racing immediately invokes the sentiments of speed and thrill. But before racecars can hit the track, they must be designed, constructed and tested.

Over 50 USC students work on this process every single day. These students are part of USC Racing, the university’s student-run chapter of Formula Society of Automotive Engineers.

USC Racing builds race cars from scratch every year and competes internationally against other universities. Trojans — ranging from freshmen to graduate students, and from engineering majors to business students — work on every aspect of the car.

Anchal Jain, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, joined USC Racing at the beginning of his freshman year. Now the head of engineering and team captain, Jain was awarded the Gary Norris Promise Award for his dedication, leadership skills and creativity at USC Racing.

“We try to have a culture that is based on keeping people excited about what we are doing and helping new members learn more,” Jain said. “Even though the project is really complicated, we don’t expect new members to have any prior experience, and the leads are responsible for teaching them.”

Within a year or two of joining the team, new students gain out-of-the-classroom skills that round them out to be capable engineers. Jain enjoys seeing the concepts from Computer-Aided Design computer models come to life.

Another team captain is Abdullah Bundogji, a senior studying mechanical engineering. Bundogji began as a member of the powertrain sub-team, but is now the head of business. The powertrain sub-team is responsible for the design and development of all the engine subsystems and supporting systems.

“There was a need for funding on the team, so I picked up the role of contacting sponsors,” Bundogji said. “I listed all the companies down and I just picked up the phone and started calling them.”

During the fall of 2015, Bundogji and his team received a sponsorship of $10,000 from MK manufacturing, which funded machinery and material for their cars.

“I was already in the technical part of the team, but speaking with businesses is really fun because I get to network with people from different companies and different industries,” Bundogji said. “Our sponsors include big companies from the automotive and aerospace industry.”

Shantanu Mohta, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, joined USC Racing in his sophomore year. Mohta is the powertrain lead.

The progress of USC Racing was almost stopped in December 2016, when a fire broke out and the club almost lost their workspace in the back of parking structure A. The hurdle caused them to lose a few months of their development time.

“Getting over that has been a rough patch; we had to scrap some of our advanced designs and go to simpler ones just because of the time frame,” Mohta said. “Instead of having a two-three-month testing cycle, we are now reduced to two-three weeks.”

USC Racing’s chassis team has two leads, Luke Sanasarian and Kevin Jacques, who are both juniors majoring in mechanical engineering. The chassis team works on designing the suspension, brakes, steering and frame of the car.

”It’s a really rewarding experience to go out on the test day or go to the competition and see how well our car is running and how fast it goes,” Sanasarian said. “There are 80 other teams and everybody’s car is unique with different strengths and weaknesses.”

This year, while Sanasarian worked on the suspension and steering of the car, Jacques focused on optimizing the car’s frame.

Jaques said that USC Racing has helped him get job interviews.

“One of my favorite parts about USC Racing is the opportunities it has opened up for me as far as my career is concerned,” Jacques said. “The last two jobs I have had are partially due to USC Racing.”

Another sub-team is the aerodynamics team, which is led by Bharath Ravishankar, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering. Ravishankar’s primary responsibility is to lead and design the bodywork of the car.

“For a lot of us, this is the main thing we do outside of classes,” Ravishankar said. “Either you are in class, studying or you are at the shop working on something.”

Yet, despite the time commitment, Ravishankar finds profound value in his work and in spending time with his friends.

“My favorite part is that I get to work with friends on something really cool for a lot of time,” Ravishankar said.

Mengqi Zhao, a graduate student studying materials engineering, is the composites manufacturing lead at USC Racing.

“For everyone on the team, the main reason to join the team is we all love racecars,” Zhao wrote in an email to the Daily Trojan. “When I first joined the team, I didn’t have much experience working on the car. But all the team members taught me a lot.”

Yann Daniel Staelens, a senior lecturer in aerospace and mechanical engineering, has been the faculty adviser at USC Racing for four years now and teaches a 1-unit FSAE technical elective for mechanical engineers. Staelens gives the USC Racing team technical advice on designs and helps them with administrative and management issues.

“With student groups, it can sometimes have rough edges that we need to round off — and that’s what I am there for,” Staelens said. “To make sure that they stay consistent as a team and make sure to respect the deadlines as much as they can so that we can have a car to go to competition each year by June.”

USC Racing is currently in the testing phase of its racecar for the upcoming competition, Formula SAE Lincoln that will be held from June 21 to 24. They finished 27th out of 80 last year and hope to be in the top 15 this year.